Prayer is the Main Effort
A kollel yungerman honored one of his relatives to be the mohel for his son. The unexperienced mohel accidentally cut into the flesh. The doctors who checked the child said the child would survive, but his future was at stake. Reb Meilech Firer (a renowned medical referral expert) told the family about a doctor in America who could help them, “But it will be expensive. You’ll need $250,000.” This sum was way beyond the kollel yungerman's abilities. They didn’t know how they would raise that money. The father went to his kollel worried, not knowing how to proceed. He told his study partner that he needs $250,000. His friend replied “Let's go and shout our hearts out by Minchah and Hashem will help.” They went to a study hall where people didn’t know them and they both prayed Shemonah Esrei for forty-five minutes. When they finished Shemonah Esrei, the father received a phone call from Reb Meilech Firer, “Did you do anything yet?” “I didn’t begin,” the father replied. “I just finished praying Minchah.” “Good” Reb Firer said. “The doctor is coming to Eretz Yisrael to teach his techniques to doctors here. He will do your operation for free, covered by the national insurance. And you will even be paid, if you permit other doctors to watch the operation with a closed-circuit camera.” This story happened on a regular day. When we pray in such a manner in Elul, our prayers will be surely answered. The father thought he had to do great effort to raise the $250,000, but he prayed Minchah, and that is the primary effort.
People think livelihood comes from their work; that doctors heal with medicine, that shidduchim are done by shadchanim, and so on. Actually, behind every salvation there’s a prayer, because nothing happens without prayer. The Ben Ish Chai, zy'a explained this point with a parable: Someone was attacked by a fierce bear in the forest. He quickly grabbed a stick and began hitting the bear. The bear fell to the ground, dead. He kissed his stick. He thought it saved his life. Then he sees someone climbing down a tree. Smiling this man says, “Do you really think your stick killed the bear? The stick didn’t do more than scratch the bear. I shot the bear with my gun from the tree.” This parable reminds us that it isn’t our effort that helps us. It is prayer. As the Mesilas Yesharim (ch.21) writes, “It isn’t effort that helps. It is an obligation… a tax all mankind must pay… After one does his obligation, Hashem’s blessings can come” The Ben Ish Chai elaborates: Shimon and Levi (Yaakov Avinu’s children) fought against Shechem. Two people against an entire city, and they won the war because Yaakov prayed for them. As Yaakov Avinu said, “I will give you Shechem… which I conquered…with my prayers" (Genesis 48:22, see Rashi). Shimon and Levi made their effort. They convinced the people of Shechem to circumcise themselves, and on the third day, when they were very weak, Shimon and Levi attacked and won the war. But the effort didn’t win the war; Yaakov’s prayers did.
The Zohar teaches that there are three forms of prayer: The most powerful is tefillah le'ani, the pauper's prayer. The Sar Shalom of Belz zy'a asked, so why do people go to tzaddikim to daven for them? They should go to a pauper, since the pauper's prayer is the highest form of prayer. The answer is that the pauper's prayer is a mindset. It is to realize that we are "poor" and we can’t do anything without Hashem. Tzaddikim understand this well, and therefore their prayers are very effective.
The Power The Power of Speech Chazal (Moed Katan 18.) say, “An oath has been set for one’s lips.” Whatever one says takes effect. Similarly, the Gemara (Brachos 19.) says, “A person should never open his mouth for the Satan.” He shouldn’t say something that the Satan could cash in on and take advantage of, because it might take effect. There was a procession in Vilna for a Torah Scholar, who was the rav of a nearby town. A renowned maggid, who often gave eulogies at funerals, stood up on a chair to begin his eulogy, but the chair slipped, he fell, and was brought to the hospital. There was another Torah Scholar who lived in the town of the demised rav. He came to Vilna for the procession, and after the procession he went to the home of Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky zt’l to speak with him words of Torah. After conversing in Torah for some time, Reb Chaim Ozer asked him why he came to Vilna. The man replied that he came for the procession. Reb Chaim Ozer suddenly became very serious and he asked, “Did the maggid say a eulogy?” “Actually, he stood up on a chair to give the eulogy, and the chair fell from under him. It was a terrible scene. He was rushed to the hospital. So, the answer to your question is no, he didn’t give a eulogy.” Reb Chaim Ozer became pensive again for a few moments, and then he said good bye to his guest. Reb Chaim Ozer’s family overheard the conversation, and wanted to know why it was important for him to know whether the maggid gave a eulogy, and why did he suddenly become so pensive. He replied: “The deceased and the maggid once came to me for a din torah. During the heat of the debate, some unkind words passed between them, and the maggid said, ‘After 120 years (when you pass away) don’t expect me to be eulogize you.” “This is what he said, and Heaven made certain he kept his word.” Because what a person says, can come to be. The Shelah (Balak 17) writes, “A person must be very cautious not to open the mouth for the Satan, because even when this wasn’t his intention, his words draw the matter onto himself. An example is Balak, who said (22:6), ‘Go curse me…’ Balak’s words sounded like he was asking that Bilaam should curse him. In the end, Bilaam indeed cursed him.”
The Special Hour
The Arizal teaches: Every day has a special hour. All prayers said in that hour will be answered. The problem is, we don’t know which hour it is. Perhaps therefore the Gemara says, “If only a person would pray the entire day.” If he prays all day long, he will certainly merit saying prayers during that special hour, when all one’s requests are answered. The Otzer Niflaos HaTorah explains, 'everyone has a unique hour when everything he says will take effect. Therefore, one should pray the entire day, because man doesn’t know when that hour is.'
It states in this week's parashah (24:9), "Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way, when you left Egypt." The Rambam elaborates that Miriam’s transgression was very slight. She almost didn’t do anything wrong. Yet she was punished severely. And this teaches us the severity of lashon hara. As the Rambam (Tumas Tzaraas 15:10) writes, “Think about what happened to the prophetess Miriam when she spoke [lashon hara] on her brother Moshe. She was older than Moshe. She raised him. She risked her life to save him from the Nile. She didn’t say anything derogatory about him, other that she erred to compare him to other prophets. And Moshe wasn't angry with her that she spoke about him. Nevertheless, she was immediately smitten with tzaraas. All the more so, the people who are fools and wicked and they speak all types of severe lashon haras [how great will be their punishment]! … This is the ways of the wicked and scoffers (leitzim): First they speak foolishness… then they discuss the faults of the righteous… then they speak against the prophets… and then they speak against Hashem…. But the conversations of the kosher Jews are solely words of Torah and wisdom. Therefore Hakadosh Baruch Hu helps them…." The Chofetz Chaim (Shaar HaTevunah 12) discusses the severity of Miriam’s punishment. One aspect is that she was punished while they were traveling. As it states, "Remember what Hashem your G-d did to Miriam on the way, when you left Egypt." Why does the Torah emphasize that she was punished while traveling? The Torah tells that the entire nation had to wait seven days before they could continue traveling, because they were waiting for Miriam to be cured. At that time, everyone heard about Miriam’s tzaraas and her lashon hara. It was very embarrassing for her. But lashon hara is so severe, that the punishment comes immediately, without delay. Consider the following analogy: A father and son were on a train. The son was hot and the father was cold. The son was repeatedly opening the window, to cool off, and the father was repeatedly shutting the window, because he couldn’t take the cold. This went on for quite a while. The father said, "When we get home, I'll punish you." But the father didn’t punish him while traveling, because one of the tenets of chinuch is: Don’t punish your child in front of others. Nevertheless, Miriam’s punishment came even while they were traveling, because of the severity of lashon hara. The Torah therefore emphasizes that Miriam was punished even while traveling, so we can understand the severity of lashon hara. The Torah also emphasizes that the punishment occurred when they left Egypt. Why is this factor important to remember? The Chofetz Chaim replies that this is to remind us that Miriam didn’t have who to learn from. They had recently left Mitzrayim, the punishment of the spies who spoke lashon hara on Eretz Yisrael took place later. She had no way of knowing how severe lashon hara is. One might claim that her punishment should be more lenient or maybe postponed, for how should she know the severity of lashon hara? Nevertheless, she was punished severely and immediately because of the severity of lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim concludes, "Everyone should learn a fortiori from this…and be aware of the severe punishment that comes to those who speak lashon hara.”
The Punishment for Lashon Hara
Students of the Arizal say, the punishment for speaking lashon hara is to be reincarnated in a dog. The Chida writes that it is hinted at in the verse (Bamidbar 32:42), The Chofetz Chaim zt’l writes that he heard from Reb Dovid Tabil (the Nachlas Dovid) zt’l who heard from Reb Chaim Volozhiner zt’l who heard from the Vilna Gaon zt’l, that once, when the Vilna Gaon was in exile (wandering from place to place) his wagon driver rode his horses into a field, so the horses could eat there. But the landowner was there. When he saw the horses grazing on his produce, he ran to stop this theft. The wagon driver saw the owner coming, and immediately fled from the scene. When the landowner arrived, only the Vilna Gaon was on the carriage. The landowner assumed he was guilty and responsible for bringing the horses into the field, so he began hitting him. The Vilna Gaon repeated this incident and added that had he told the landowner that it wasn’t his fault, the landowner would stop hitting him. But then he would be transgressing the sin of lashon hara, as it would be implied that the wagon driver is guilty. And then, all of his merits wouldn’t protect him from becoming a reincarnation in a dog. Guarding one’s speech at home is a segulah for domestic harmony. Many disputes could be averted when people are cautious with their speech
Those Who Guard their Tongue are granted the Power of Prayer
Those who are cautious with their speech have a very special strength of prayer. This is alluded in the words, 'don’t sully your words, and then whatever you ask for will occur. As it states in Sefer Chassidim, “Whoever speaks the truth and doesn’t want to think or speak falsehood, all his words — and even all his thoughts — will take effect. This is proven from the Torah, Prophets, and Writings.” The Avnei Nezer (Shem Mishmuel ò"øú úåèî) teaches: When one only speaks Torah and mitzvos, and doesn’t profane his mouth with forbidden speech, his mouth becomes like the utensils of the Holy Temple. One of the features of the utensils of the Holy Temple is that when items are placed inside them, they become holy. Similarly, due to the holiness of his mouth, his prayers will be holy and take on a much stronger effect. All his prayers will be answered.
Pray for Spiritual Success
When you pray during Elul, and throughout the year, add requests to succeed in the service of Hashem, because such prayers are always answered. Chazal (Bava Metzia 59.) state that after the destruction of the Holy Temple, the gates of heaven were locked and it is hard for our prayers to go up. “Nevertheless,” Reb Yisrael Salanter zt’l says, “it is tried and proven that there is one prayer that is always answered —in all times and situations. That is when one prays that Hashem help them with their spirituality” (Michtav MeEliyahu vol.4, p.77). The Sefer Chassidim (131) writes, “If a person asks for something that will be a praise to Hashem, such as to learn Torah or the like, and he pours his heart out, The Holy One will accept his prayer, even if he doesn’t have any merits and good deeds.” The Kli Yakar (Devarim 3:23) writes, “It is right that Hashem should answer his requests, because he is asking for what Hashem wants too.” Chazal say, “Everything is in Heaven’s hands, except for fear of G-d.” The Rebbe of Kotzk zt’l explains that when one prays for material matters, Heaven decides whether it is good for him to receive this or not. But when one prays for Torah, mitzvos, and fear of G-d, his requests are always answered, because that is unquestionably a good thing. Chazal hint to this when they say, 'everything is up to Heaven to decide whether to give it or not, the exception is when one prays for fear of G-d,' because Hashem will certainly give it to him.
Reb Aharon Yosef Luria (Avodas Pnim) discussed the order of blowing the shofar: tekia, shvarim, truah tekiah. He explained that tekia has two translations: It can mean to move, as in, "Yaakov's thigh was dislodged" (Bereishis 32:26), and it can mean to establish and to fix well in place, as it states, "Lavan set up his tent" (Bereishis 31:25). The first tekia implies that one should move in the right direction and improve his ways. But when he sees how hard it is to change his ways, comes shevarim teruah. These sounds imply to a crying and broken heart, praying to Hashem to save him and help him improve. And when one prays, he will succeed. Therefore, we blow the final tekiyah, which this time means fixed securely in place. Because due to his prayer, he will succeed to improve and change his ways.